Believe me when I tell you I am drowning in books. The works: ceaseless reading, teetering piles, too many library trips, the feeling that there will never be enough time, sore eyes, skipped meals, ignored inbox, days passing from sunlight to moonlight, and yes…
…the dazed look of one reading and re-reading the last chapters of the last book of the Harry Potter series. Harry Potter in combination with Nancie Atwell and the bubble of awe that comes from absorbing her stories of ideal classrooms, students who read entire books and write entire pieces in class, teachers who set up safe environments for students to read and write in class. Nancie Atwell and Donald Graves both talk about teachers discovering their own literary personality, how one reads, how one writes, reading and writing with one’s students, and revealing those processes to one’s students. I myself told future Literacy Austin tutors (when I was asked to share tips at a training) that they could do this at-times-formidable task of helping someone practice reading and speak English because they knew how to do these things themselves; it was only a matter of unearthing and voicing the techniques that have become ingrained in us as subconscious practices.
I am excited by what Atwell writes about. Reading and writing workshops that let students read and write what they want to read and write. Giving them time, ownership, and response. It electrifies me and energizes me and fills me with images of my future classroom (in much the same way Esquith’s Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire did). At the same time, it terrifies me because I have to unearth all of this within myself, I have to dissect my favorite, favorite thing: reading. But then I’m reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows for the second time, and the ending floors me. I am in awe and full of everything, and I want to reread what I’ve just read again and again. I want to backtrack to all the bits and pieces that J.K. Rowling has woven together so seamlessly, so effortlessly, so magically. And I realize (even more now than during my first too-quick read-through) that Rowling is a master of repetition.
At a SCBWI workshop at BookPeople, author Shana Burg explained one of her writing tools: repetition. Each scene should contain one element that looks forward, and one that looks back. It’s best if an author uses each element three times, but each element should be used at least twice. Rowling knits together her scenes so well, I marvel at the hints and elements she’s dropped since book 1, and I wonder how long that train trip really was, when Harry purportedly fell into her head, when she had to mull and create and carry Harry’s story in her head because she has no working pen at the time. And I wonder how many lists and notes she must have scrawled about this world, this plot. And I wonder how many of the elements were written looking forward toward an orchestrated ending, and how many pieces just fell into place as she continued writing and continued looking backward for elements to pull from earlier books. But all those details! The details astonish me. I know this wonder and deep satisfaction is in part due to my identity as a writer, my reading like a writer.
I love this feeling at the end of a good book—the daze, the immersion, the spinning wheels, the full heart. The only other one I can think of right now is Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief, a marvel if you can get through to the second half and on to the end.
How could I not want to share this feeling with students? How are so many Americans not reading? I know, I know, I know why, but it’s infuriating. Reading and writing workshops for all! A revolution in the way we teach language arts and reading! But I have this cold, sinking feeling in my stomach and this nagging doubt in the back of my mind. It’s grey, and it’s grim, just one word long—TEKS. In this post-No-Child-Left-Behind, test-obsessed world of education, is there room for writing workshop? And what do I need to garner enough legitimacy to create one?
So I return to my pile of books, and the days pass. And I still don’t know what I’ll be doing come Fall ’09.
We promise according to our hopes,
and perform according to our fears.
Are my books, my current addiction, a promise to myself or fear of the world outside this house, outside my mind, outside Rowling’s Hogwarts?
One of the books I’m reading is E.M. Standing’s Maria Montessori: Her Life and Work. The book starts with a brief biography, and after becoming the first woman M.D. in Italy in history, Montessori went through “ten crowded years of the most incessant and varied labours.” She worked with “defective children,” lectured at University, attended courses on philosophy and psychology, and occasionally practiced medicine in the community.
“To collect one’s forces, even when they seem to be scattered, and when one’s aim is only dimly perceived—this is a great action and will sooner or later bring forth fruits.” ~Maria Montessori
I’ve been observing a variety of classes before the end of the school year (not a great time to observe any class, but still). And I’ve been observing some of them on not-enough sleep and a semi-tired brain (not ideal but still). Lately, after a few hours of quietly watching, I feel tired, hungry, fidgety, and like I want to be left alone to process the day and what I’ve seen and what what I’ve learned…but at the same time I feel as if I should run around, make lots of noise, bang and stomp through the house, and talk a lot about what I’ve seen and what I’ve learned. I don’t know how much of this I act out, but I certainly feel it. And I’m not even an energetic 7-year-old or a hormonal adolescent. And I haven’t even had to sit through an entire eight hours of lessons and classroom management. Sympathies all around.
And my mini-lesson of the day: I should not be allowed anywhere near my inbox or my boyfriend when I am feeling this way. Apologies all around.